Mind the Online Generation Gap

The kids are fearless and parents are clueless.

Well, that's what I used to say about the vast differences between parents and their kids and the Internet. Research that we've launched today suggests that the picture is both more complex than that while also offering some reassurance that while gaps still exist: parents are catching up.

Take monitoring. While four out of five (84%) parents say they monitor their kids' online use either very or fairly closely, only 39% of kids say their parents do so -- a huge 45% gap in perceptions.

And as for being informed, nine in ten (91%) of parents say they are well informed about what their kids are doing online and on a cell phone, whereas just three in five (62%) of teens say that their parents are either very or somewhat informed about their online behavior.

But the biggest gaps exist between what parents say they know about their teens' social networking use on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. Thirty-eight percent of parents say they are well informed about what their kids are doing on Twitter, for instance, while only 14% of teens think they are. Interestingly, parents and kids are much more in sync about teens' use of gaming, texting and instant messaging.

Remarkably, both teens and parents feel that teens are generally safe online. An amazing 95% of teens report feeling very safe (37%) or somewhat safe (58%) online and 94% of parents agree. Interestingly, though, teens' sense of what it means to be safe online centers on their privacy and ensuring no one has access to their personal information -- more of a security concern. Meanwhile, parents report that avoiding stranger danger (29%) as their top worry.

One of the most encouraging results of this new study is that 81% of teens report that they've set privacy settings on their social networking accounts and have placed limits on who they share their posts with (65%). Over half report having removed a tagged photo or unfriended someone due to an offensive post. The drumbeat of privacy messaging appears to be taking effect. It could also be that kids are far more savvy about their privacy than we sometimes give them credit for.

When it comes to protecting their kids' safety online, parents and teens are at odds about the measures parents say they take. A large percentage of parents (70%) say that they check their teens' text messages on their cell phones, while only 30% of teens report that their parents do this. Fully 93% of parents state that they have set rules and expectations regarding the time kids spend online or on their mobile phone, while just 61% of teens say their parents do this. We see similar gaps in parents' and teens' perceptions about the limiting of online search capabilities and the number of texts that can be sent. This could be a matter of parents over reporting, in order to "look good" as a responsible parent. It could also be that some teens are blissfully unaware that their parents have taken steps to limit their online use, or would prefer not to own up to it.

On a more encouraging note, the more informed or engaged a parent feels about their teens' online behavior, the more likely they are to report feeling confident their teens are very safe online. Nearly half of parents who say they are very well informed about their teens' online activity feel their teen is very safe online, while only 28% of parents who say they are somewhat or less well informed feel the same.

And the teens are doing something about posts they later regret with 83% of them saying they've gone back in to delete the offending piece.

So we have a complex and challenging landscape of attitudes, behaviors and perceptions with parents and teens negotiating this constantly changing world of devices, apps, social media sites and services. The good news is that the more that parents get engaged, the greater the sense of safety and security. And the kids themselves are taking steps to secure themselves online and to protect their reputation in this expanding digital space.